Well, I had a fabulous time at Emily’s. Heavenly, you might say (ha, ha, sorry, inside joke). I went not knowing what we were going to do, except talk a lot, of course, and talk a lot we did, and we did many other interesting and surprising things too. As I wrote on Saturday, Emily and Bob have a fabulous house chock full of books, and any free moment I had I wandered around from room to room checking them out. But mostly I spent the time lounging around on sofas deep in conversation, and now and then we headed out into the heat to do some sightseeing.
The weekend is memorable for lots of reasons, but among them is the fact that I got to talk with a real live minister to whom I could relate as a friend rather than as an intimidating person who might ask me embarrassing questions about my (lack of) faith. I’ve never had that experience before, and I took full advantage of it. Actually Bob did do things like tell me I’m a sinner and need to confess, but he did it as a joke, and I just laughed at him. Can I just say it’s delightful to be irreverent and joke about religious matters with a minister? To swear and take the Lord’s name in vain in front of a minister and have it be no big deal? There’s something positively healing in being able to do that.
I don’t remember exactly how the topic of religion came up, but pretty soon I was asking Bob questions like “what’s your conception of God?” and we were off into deep theological waters. What I learned, among other things, is that if you ask a minister a question like that, you’d better be ready to spend a few hours talking about the answer. Bob did a wonderful job of answering my question, which really requires several years and a book-length response, in a short period of time and with great clarity and lots of good anecdotes.
I also got a kick out of attending a church service run by the minister with whom I’d spent much of the weekend being irreverent; I was pleased to discover that he wanted to hear my critique of his sermon afterwards, and that he’d added in a phrase or two at the last minute that addressed our earlier conversations. Part of my pleasure in all this is that it made me feel like such a grown-up — a church leader genuinely wanted to hear my opinion and took it very seriously and was really listening to what I had to say, rather than waiting for an opportunity to start preaching to me once again, which has been my experience with ministers in the past.
But the real highlight of the weekend was being able to talk with Emily; we talked about books and houses and friends and family and churches and theology and teaching, and also quite a lot about blogging. It’s interesting that, although we both have been blogging for about two years and have already had many a long conversation about it, we haven’t run out of things to say; the experience remains rich enough to require even more conversation. Also interestingly, Bob is a skeptic about the value of blogging, so the three of us argued about things like whether blogging is democratic in the sense that it gets people with different ideas and beliefs in conversation with one another or whether it makes it easy for people to retreat into groups of like-minded people who never challenge each other, and so is contributing to the fragmentation and isolation of our culture. Although Bob had other arguments against blogging, this struck me as the most interesting; I think that blogging is whatever you make of it, so it can lead to increased exposure to different ideas and people, but I suspect that in practice it often doesn’t. I’m not sure. Thoughts?
Emily and Bob live in the heart of Amish country, so I saw buggies and men with long beards and women in modest dresses all over the place, and also fields and farms and livestock. We saw some of the tourist sights, including a little village with shops selling local cheese and fudge and jam, all of which I brought home samples of, and we toured the local market, which contains mostly organic and locally-grown food, and which I really want to have just up the street from me. I had fun at the Lancaster Brewing Company, although the ghost story Bob told while we were sampling their beer is still scaring me a little at night.
Among the unexpected things we did was to spend time at the local hospital and rehab center; Emily and I would hang out in the lobby and talk while Bob visited church members. Bob seemed to feel bad for dragging us along on these trips, but I was fine with it, as the air conditioning was a blessed relief from being outdoors, and I really just wanted to talk with Emily anyway. It also gave me a glimpse into a pastor’s life, and I have a new respect for all the hard work they do — it’s not just the frequent visits pastors make but the fact that each one could potentially be an emotionally wrenching experience. I saw just how much a pastor’s job is never ending and isn’t really a job at all, but more of a lifestyle.
So, to conclude, if you ever get the chance to visit Emily, don’t turn it down! You never know what bracing debate you might find yourself in or what local public institution you might visit. Plus, there’s the frog shrine, which is not to be missed.